New Protocols In Place

Reduced operating costs for owners, a new national ad campaign and updated brand standards around cleanliness and social distancing were among the key initiatives discussed by Choice Hotels during the company’s virtual event last month.

The executive team detailed the brand company’s efforts to franchisees and the media during a presentation entitled “The Road Forward: A Leadership Update.”

John Bonds, svp, enterprise operations and technology, Choice Hotels International, asserted that because of the pandemic the company was determined to help owners with their bottom line.

“Our goal was to reduce the operating costs of the average upper-midscale hotel by $50,000 per year. We expect you to see these savings over the next year as changes are rolled across three areas,” he said, in reference to revisions to breakfast, housekeeping and check-in procedures.

Several weeks ago Choice launched its “Commitment To Clean” program in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. “This matters to corporate clients and will be essential to winning back business travelers,” said Bond, who further added, “the majority of hotels in our system have already implemented many of the new brand standards and best practices.”

Some of those new standards include using EPA-approved cleaning chemicals, encouraging social distancing, making hand sanitizer available in public areas and installing plexiglass shields at the front desk. Bonds also noted that all Choice properties have been asked to appoint a “Commitment To Clean” captain and had them completed mandatory training by July 1.

The designated captain is responsible for “learning new procedures and communicating across your team.” He noted that more than 1,300 captains system-wide have completed their training. The company was also poised to launch a multi-channel, national ad campaign in support of its “Commitment to Clean” program, according to Chief Commercial Officer Robert McDowell.

“The campaign speaks directly to the leisure traveler who’s itching to get back out there. Our ad will fuel their desire to hit the road. We intentionally featured shots of drive-to markets where most of your hotels are,” said McDowell, noting that all of the company’s brand logos are included as well.

Bonds detailed some of the changes to the breakfast program. Beginning in March, the company introduced the option of prepackaged items as opposed to the traditional buffet as phase 1 of the program. “Almost overnight guest expectations changed regarding breakfast buffets and communal dining…We took immediate action to respond to changing guest expectations while saving you money and reflecting the reality of operating a hotel in a pandemic,” he said.

Bonds further noted while that guest expectations have shifted they didn’t change completely as travelers continue to expect a free breakfast at midscale properties. He noted that phase 2 of the program—which is expected to kick off sometime in October—will be largely the same as phase 1 with an additional hot item by request, such as a microwavable sandwich, for example.

“Since these items are available by request only you’ll be able to reduce waste as well as operating cost,” he said. Bond added phase 3 of the program won’t begin until early 2021 and would “require a bit more” but would still be “quite a bit less than pre-COID breakfast requirements.”

Meanwhile, Bonds explained some of the changes around housekeeping. “As social distancing became the new norm we saw another shift in guest expectations, this time around housekeeping. While guests always expect to check in to a thoroughly cleaned hotel room, an overwhelming majority told us that they do not want daily housekeeping service when staying three-plus nights,” he said. As a result, the company’s upper-midscale, midscale and economy brands are now enabling guests to receive housekeeping only when they want by allowing them to opt in.

“You can expect lower staffing and supply costs all while making your guests feel safer,” he said. Choice is also in the process of piloting a program to check-in guests with a tablet. Bond stated that all procedures would remain the same except for signing the registration card, which would in many cases eliminate the need to print a registration card.

“This can save thousands a year on paper and costs, not to mention environmental and public health benefits,” he said, adding that in the future the tablet will enable hotels to offer a “brand specific, local experience.”

McDowell mentioned the company has begun ramping up promotions of late beginning with a Memorial Day flash sale, and has seen some positive results in recent weeks.

“Not only did we see success over the holiday weekend but the following weekend was even stronger and that is not historically the case. We then launched a series of regional sales in states where they began to loosen restrictions,” he noted.

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